Natural Disasters in Vietnam

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Case Studies of Natural Disasters

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Tran Huu Tuan* and Bui Dung The Introduction Lying in the tropical monsoon area of the northwestern Pacific, Vietnam is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. It is affected by many kinds of disasters (in this chapter, “disasters” generally refers to natural disasters), such as floods, storms, tropical depressions, storm surges, whirlwinds, flash floods, coastline erosion, hail, rains, droughts, and landslides. Disasters occur in every part of the country and in every season of the year, causing huge losses in terms of lives and assets, and destroying socioeconomic and cultural infrastructures, as well as the natural environment. Disasters are the main obstacle to economic development because they result in environmental degradation and they widen the poverty gap and increase the poverty rate in the population, especially in disaster-prone areas. In the last 10 years, extreme events have killed more than 7,500 people, and have seriously damaged assets, with losses estimated to be equivalent to about 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP. The disasters afflicting Vietnam have increased in terms of severity, as well as frequency (CCFSC 2005; SRV 2007). This chapter sets out to reach a better understanding of disasters in Vietnam through a review of relevant case studies, policies, plans, and strategies. The focus is on the socioeconomic aspects of disasters such as socioeconomic and poverty impacts, adaptation strategies, and institutional arrangements from national to local levels. This chapter includes: • a brief introduction to the geography, climate, and socioeconomic situation of Vietnam, as well as its disaster profile; • an analytical review of the socioeconomic, health, and environmental impacts of disasters in Vietnam; • a discussion of the country’s strategies for mitigating disasters at national, meso (i.e., provincial, district, and communal), and household levels; and • a conclusion and discussion of future research in the field. * The authors would like to acknowledge the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters for financial support in the writing of this chapter.

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This synthesis was prepared using documentary research methods. Secondary data and previous studies were gathered from national and local authorities, academic and research institutes, related projects, and websites. Among the constraints and challenges was the limited availability of research reports on disasters in Vietnam: disaster research in Vietnam is at an early stage. Most studies done so far are descriptive in nature and cover only a small study area. Second, there are even fewer studies concerned with the socioeconomic aspects of disasters in particular. Third, there may be case studies of disasters in Vietnam that were unknowingly omitted.

Background VIETNAM’S GEOGRAPHY, CLIMATE, AND SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS Geographical Location and Topography Vietnam, located in southeast Asia, has a coastal line of 3,260 km, from the Chinese border in the north to the frontier with Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand (SRV 2007). The country’s topography is rather diverse, including mountains, hills, rivers, plains, coastlines, and islands. Three fourths of the country is covered by mountains and hills. Vietnam has a rather dense river network with 2,360 rivers. Plains are usually situated in the lower reaches of rivers and only account for a quarter of the territorial area. The Red River Delta in the north and Mekong River Delta in the south are the country’s two biggest plains. Vietnam is divided into seven economic regions based on its topography: the Northern Mountains, the Red River Delta, the North Central Coast, the South Central Coast, the Central Highlands, the Eastern South, and the Mekong River Delta (MoNRE 2003; SRV 2007). Climate Vietnam has a monsoon tropical climate with high temperature and humidity. There is significant variation in climate between regions. The north is affected by the northeast monsoon and has two typical seasons: the hot season from May to October and the cold season from November to April. The south is mainly affected by the southeast monsoon with heat and wetness year round. Both parts of the country have different climate subregions depending on geographical features and topographic position. Temperature varies slightly between regions; mean temperature in the summer varies from 25 to 30ºC. There are large variations, however, in average monthly temperatures—about 10 to 15ºC in the north and 2 to 3ºC in the south. There are about 100 rainy days with a total rainfall amount of 1,500 to 2,000 mm per year. About 80–90 percent of rainfall is concentrated into the rainy season. Annual rainfall also varies in different regions, ranging from 600 to 5,000 mm. Floods and inundation usually occur during the rainy season, while drought happens in the dry season because rainfall is distributed unevenly during the year. Every year there are 6 to 10

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storms and tropical depressions directly affecting Vietnam and causing heavy rains and floods. Storms and tropical depressions often occur from June to November but mainly in September and October. Most of them occur in central and northern coastal provinces of the country, with very few in the southern part (MoNRE 2003). Given such climate conditions, the country is exposed to a regular threat of storms, tropical low pressures, floods, and other disasters. Socioeconomic Conditions In 2007, the population of Vietnam was 85.2 million, of which females make up 50.9 percent. Twenty-seven percent live in urban areas. The population growth rate is 1.21 percent. The poverty rate for the whole country is 14.8 percent, though this varies across localities. Average life expectancy is 71 years. The GDP structure of the country is 20.3 percent for agriculture, forestry, and fishery; 41.6 percent for industry and construction; and about 38 percent for services (GSO 2008). Although the agriculture, forestry, and fishery sector occupies the smallest share of the country’s GDP, it plays an important social security role, especially for the population that lives in rural areas. The Vietnamese economy has grown at more than 7 percent annually in the last two decades. This trend is expected to continue for the next decade. The high economic growth rate and high speed of urbanization place heavy pressure on the environment and natural resources. Overexploitation of natural resources, deforestation, and environmental pollution also increase the risk of natural hazards and disasters (SRV 2007; Chaudhry and Ruysschaert 2007). PROFILE OF NATURAL DISASTERS IN VIETNAM Vietnam’s geographic location and topographical conditions generate particular climate characteristics that result in severe and diversified natural disasters in Vietnam. The country suffers from many types of disasters: floods, storms, tropical depressions, storm surges, inundations, whirlwinds, flash floods, river bank and coastline erosion, drought, landslides, and forest fires. Disasters occur all year round in Vietnam, but there are typical disasters in each season and particular characteristics in each area. As shown in figure 8.1, the frequency of disasters in Vietnam has increased. The greatest threat to Vietnam is flooding. During the flood season, heavy rainfall upstream causes high discharges and large-scale flooding. There are different flood patterns in different regions of the country. In North Vietnam, flooding normally occurs from May to September, earlier than in other regions. On average, there are three to five floods in the region every year. River floods in the South Central Coast area occur from September to December. This region is characterized by short and steep river systems with rapid flows. Dyke systems in this region are inadequate or incomplete. Floods also spread across the floodplains, causing huge losses. Floods in the Mekong River Delta are caused by upstream floods and are also directly influenced by tides and the capacity of upstream reservoirs to hold waters. Floods in the Mekong River Delta usually last for a long time (four to five months), causing

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Number of disasters

35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 1974–1978 1979–1983 1984–1988 1989–1993 1994–1998 1999–2003 FIGUR E 8.1

Number of natural disasters in Vietnam

Source: D. Guha-Sapir, D. Hargitt, and P. Hoyois (2004). Thirty Years of Natural Disasters 1974–2003: The Numbers. Louvain, Belgium: UCL Press, Louvain Catholic University.

inundation in almost all areas of the delta. Floods occur in other regions of the country as well, but less severely (SRV 2007; Ninh 2008). Typhoons are also one of the major disaster types afflicting Vietnam. Typhoons raise sea levels and cause storm surges and inundation. They destroy houses, buildings, and infrastructure in affected areas and generate waves that can damage sea dykes protecting coastal areas. The torrential rains that accompany typhoons can cause flash floods and submerge low-lying areas, causing losses to agriculture and fisheries. The runoff from typhoon rains, added to rivers that are already full because of monsoon rains, creates floods that endanger river dykes and threaten to destroy millions of households and other assets. On average, Vietnam suffers directly from four to six typhoons per year, which cause heavy rainfall and extensive flooding. Between 1954 and 2006, there were 380 typhoons and tropical depressions affecting Vietnam, of which 31 percent hit the North, 36 percent the Northern Central and Middle Central regions, and 33 percent the South Central and the South. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of Vietnam’s population can be affected by typhoons (SRV 2007; CCFSC 2008). Flash and mud floods, meanwhile, often occur in mountainous and hilly areas. In recent years, flash floods have become more frequent in Vietnam with two to four events per year. Flash floods usually occur suddenly and on a small scale but can be very severe and cause major human and asset losses (SRV 2007). Drought is considered the third source of major risk, after typhoons and floods. In recent years, drought has recurred in many regions of the country. The most affected areas were central provinces, particularly in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, and early 2004. In 1998, severe drought destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of rice and other crops, and caused numerous forest fires. This drought caused severe water shortages for nearly three million people in the Central and Central Highlands provinces, and drained small reservoirs throughout the region (CCFSC 2005). Other types of disasters such as inundation, salinity intrusion, landslides, erosion, whirlwinds, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, and sea surges happen in different regions and at different times in Vietnam. There is an increasing trend toward extremes of precipitation and temperature, while extreme events such as floods, storms, and other disasters have become more frequent in recent decades. In particular, devastating floods and heavy storms have increased in frequency, intensity,

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and severity as global warming has increased (Viner et al. 2006; SRV 2007; CCFSC 2008; Ninh 2008; Tran et al. 2008).

Socioeconomic Impacts of Natural Disasters in Vietnam Vietnam has suffered from a number of extremely destructive disasters. In 1997, Typhoon Linda killed nearly 3,000 people in the Mekong Delta provinces; Linda was considered as the most devastating disaster for Vietnam in the twentieth century. In 1999, the Central Vietnam region was inundated by a record-breaking flood that killed 715 people, inundated nearly one million houses, swept away thousands of houses, and caused economic losses of nearly 5,000 billion dong ($287 million). This represented one of the greatest disaster-related damage losses in Vietnam during the twentieth century (CCFSC 2005). In November 2008, floods in the 20 northern provinces and the capital city Hanoi led to at least 85 deaths, destroyed or damaged more than 100,000 houses, and significantly affected infrastructure and agricultural crops. The US Embassy in Hanoi reported total economic losses of more than $440 million (USAID 2008). According to Guha-Sapir, Hargitt, and Hoyois (2004), between 1974 and 2003, the total number of victims (people killed and affected) by natural disasters in Vietnam was 69,847,607 (or 2,328,254 per year, on average). Over the period 1989 to 2003, total economic losses reported were $3,064 million, or $204 million per year on average. According to SRV (2007), disasters in Vietnam have caused tremendous loss of life and property. Disasters are considered an obstacle to economic growth and sustainable development. They increase poverty and are a big impediment to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. They have led to considerable damage with severe economic consequences. For example, in 2005, disasters in Vietnam killed 272 people, affected more than 856,000 people, and caused more than $295 million in damage (table 8.1). As a consequence, people’s living standards decreased, and the process of hunger alleviation and poverty reduction was obstructed and delayed, especially in regions suffering a high frequency of disasters. Disasters affect the development of education, destroy educational infrastructure, and interrupt school time, especially in mountainous areas and the Mekong River Delta. Disasters also cause great problems for vulnerable people such as the elderly, disabled, women, and children. TABLE 8.1 } Natural Disasters in Vietnam (2005)

Disaster type

Number of disasters

People killed

People affected

Sum of damage US$ (000)




















Source: Guha-Sapir, Hargitt, and Hoyois 2004.

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ECONOMIC IMPACTS Natural disasters in Vietnam have a significant impact on people’s lives. The most affected sectors include agriculture, aquaculture, infrastructure, and animal husbandry. The Impact on Agriculture Vietnam is heavily dependent on its natural resources, particularly agriculture and fisheries with almost three quarters of the population living in rural areas (Viner et al. 2006). As pointed out by Chaudhry and Ruysschaert (2007), the long duration of floods, storms, typhoons, salt water intrusion, and droughts affect agriculture in terms of growing periods, crop calendars and crop distribution, pest increases, and virus activity. These changes cause the reduction in yields of the main crops. However, aggregate damage was not estimated. Adger (1998) shows that typhoons have a great impact on rice cultivation in Nam Dinh province, though salt production and other agricultural activities tend not to be impacted. Storms disrupt the harvest and damage the rice seedlings being prepared for the second crop. Viner et al. (2006) find that the annual cycle of flooding, tropical storms, and cyclones that bring high winds, very intense rainfall, flash flooding, and storm surges affect the Red River Delta region several times a year, causing extensive and repeated agricultural losses. Chinh (2008) investigates the impact of storms and floods on households and communities, and finds that floods and storms have a major impact on agricultural production. For instance, surveyed households outside the sea dyke area suffered a 38 to 45 percent production loss, compared to a 36 to 39 percent loss for those families located inside the dykes. Ninh, Trung, and Niem (2007), in a study of the Mekong River Delta, found that devastating floods and long-lasting inundation had an impact on the rice crop, causing low yields and crop losses. Floods with strong currents aggravated by high winds and sea surges are a danger to irrigation systems. Floods that are less violent but inundate large areas over long periods have major economic impacts. Floods and inundation cause losses of food stocks, as well as crops in the field. Drought and salt water intrusion during the dry season affect the summer rice crop. A number of studies have investigated disaster impacts in Central Vietnam. Malin (2005) examines the resilience and vulnerability of people in two districts in Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue provinces who experienced the 1999 flood. The study finds that some poor people in the flood areas lost almost all crops and part of their land. Lap, Oanh, and Hirai (2005), in a study of coastal lagoons in Thua Thien Hue province in central Vietnam, finds that saltwater intrusion makes agricultural land unsuitable for rice cultivation; farmers have to switch to fish farming but ultimately abandon it. The study also finds that as most of the land is flat and badly drained floodwater does not drain away, adversely affecting daily life and the economic activity of local households. Inundation and salinization badly affect local socioeconomic development. In a study of coastal communities in Quang Tri province, Huy (2007) found that due to saltwater intrusion, households in coastal communities have less cultivated land and land has become too degraded for agricultural production. Households

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lack the financial resources needed to buy farming inputs, while their crops cannot cope with disasters and reduced land quality. Suu and My (2008) assessed livelihoods and the vulnerability to disasters in the Huong River basin in Thua Thien Hue province. The study found that long-lasting and consecutive flooding prevents planting of crops in affected areas. Tran et al. (2008) investigated the impacts of floods on the economy, environment, and society in Thua Thien Hue. The study found that floods have an impact on most sources of income because of the way that they destroy crops in the rice field. Tran et al. (2009) observe that, in the dry season, low rainfall and saltwater intrusion around river estuaries in Thua Thien Hue province badly affect agriculture and aquatic resources. Most of the studies reviewed above illustrate that agriculture as a climate-sensitive sector is significantly affected by natural disasters. More needs to be done, however, to calculate the losses caused by natural disasters. Impacts on Aquaculture and Fisheries Vietnam started a reform program in 1986, aiming to transform itself from a centrally planned economy to a market-based economy. As a consequence, thousands of hectares of agricultural land and wetlands were converted into aquaculture ponds in coastal areas (e.g., see Tuan et al. 2009; Tran et al. 2008). Aquaculture helped to generate employment, bring in income, and improve the livelihood of local people. However, aquaculture is highly vulnerable to flooding. Hong (2002) reported that the 1999 flood destroyed more than 1,000 hectares of pond area and damaged 2,500 hectares of net enclosures in the lagoon area in Thua Thien Hue province. Floods swept away aquaculture products and destroyed fish and shrimp ponds in Central Vietnam (Tran et al. 2008). This study found that about 25 percent of surveyed households working in aquaculture are affected each year by floods. Floods and storms overcome the dyke systems and breakwaters built to protect aquaculture in the Red River Delta, causing losses to aquaculture production (Chinh 2008). For example, Chinh observed that storms numbered six and seven in 2005 led to the breakdown of all breakwaters in the study area; unharvested aquaculture products were entirely lost due to the sea tide flowing over breakwaters. Damage to aquaculture affects the livelihood of local people, especially in areas where disasters occur frequently (Suu and My 2008). Viner et al. (2006) found that annual floods, tropical storms, and cyclones in the Red River Delta caused extensive losses to fisheries. Impacts on Animal Husbandry Most households in rural Vietnam have investments in animal husbandry, which, at the household level, not only helps farmers to increase income and diversify income sources but also provides organic fertilizer for agricultural production. When disasters hit rural households, almost everything in the households can be destroyed or lost, including livestock (Malin 2005). Ninh, Trung, and Niem (2007) observe that in the Mekong River Delta livestock was drowned or washed away in floods. Further, any livestock surviving a flood may succumb to epidemics in the aftermath. This suggests that losses of animals represent for many rural households a significant proportion of the losses they suffer because of flooding.

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Impacts on Infrastructure Natural disasters have had a widespread impact on infrastructure in Vietnam. For example, the 1999 flood had enormous effects on infrastructure in Thua Thien Hue province. Floodwater broke through floodgates, inundating areas near the lagoon with sea water (PCFSC 2000). The flood caused the collapse of 1,027 schools and 25,056 houses, and destroyed many roads, bridges, and telecommunication systems (Nam 2008). Infrastructure such as sea dykes, roads between villages, and main roads in coastal communities in Central Vietnam has been damaged by floods and erosion brought about by storms. Houses built on sandy ground, houses constructed with simple materials and electricity poles collapsed or were destroyed by storms and floods (Huy 2007). During the rainy season, crops, infrastructure, and the inhabitants of river basins suffer huge losses due to disastrous floods and storms. Floods isolate villages, prevent access to services, and lead to the suspension of business activities. Thus, many economic opportunities are lost because floods and inundations lead to communities becoming isolated (Tran et al. 2008); their research shows that 41 percent of surveyed households experienced serious damage to community roads in the study area. Floods, storms, and cyclones frequently damage buildings and infrastructure in the Red River Delta (Chinh 2008; Viner et al. 2006). Storms often bring in heavy rains that cause high-level floods in the area. For example, storm number five in October 2007 caused floods in many places in the Red River Delta. More than 67 people died, thousands of dwellings and many bridges and roads were damaged, and thousands of hectares of paddy rice, maize, and vegetables were destroyed. Ninh, Trung, and Niem (2007) found that severe floods destroyed infrastructure such as roads, houses, embankments, and canals in the Mekong River Delta. Floods that are less violent but inundate large areas over long periods cause damage to property and houses, which might be under floodwater for a long time, weakening building structures and rendering possessions unusable. POVERTY IMPACTS The poor have fewer options for coping with disasters. They have fewer assets, almost no insurance, and less diversified sources of income. A disaster can push them into a downward spiral of destitution (World Bank 2001). When resources have been depleted by crop losses, debts, and high medical costs, a severe flood can push a household further into debt and can lead to out-migration or the further erosion of their livelihood base by forcing them to sell vital assets (Miller 2003). The poor often experienced relatively more damage to their houses because of poor quality construction. The study of the 1999 flood in Central Vietnam by Malin (2005) reports that the better-off lost more in absolute terms, while the losses of the poor, though not as heavy, had a relatively greater impact on their livelihoods. This implies that poverty can increase vulnerability in terms of increased exposure and/ or decreased capacity to cope and to recover. In other words, there is a two-way relationship between poverty and vulnerability to natural disasters.

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Poverty and vulnerability to floods are integrally linked and mutually reinforcing in a vicious circle (Tran et al. 2008). The poor in coastal communities suffer from disasters more often than those that are better-off because they have little or no savings, little income or production options, and limited resources to mitigate the ex-post impact of disasters. They are also more vulnerable and recover more slowly (Huy 2007). The 1999 flood in Thua Thien Hue province was extremely traumatic for villagers, particularly for those living in temporary or poorly constructed houses. Poor households have the ground floor set at a lower level than better-off households, and thus the poor are more exposed to floodwater (Tran et al. 2008). Consistent with Malin (2005), this study concluded that, in absolute terms, the flood caused more economic impact and damages to the better-off and medium households, but for the poor, the losses represented a larger proportion of their income and assets. Furthermore, because damage to assets and livelihoods by one disaster often make households more vulnerable to future impacts, vulnerability to disaster risks is cyclical. Tran et al. (2008) found that local households tend to lose their houses, assets, and livelihoods after flooding, thus they are forced to heavily exploit natural resources for survival. The pressure of high population growth and high population density in the region also causes overexploitation of aquatic resources in vulnerable areas. For example, runoff of fertilizers and pesticides is caused by intensive agricultural practices, and organic effluent from towns and villages in the surrounding areas is discharged directly into coastal lagoons. These practices cause degradation or decline of lagoon resources. As a result, poor households, whose livelihoods depend mainly on these resources, are the most affected. Malin (2005) concludes that the poor are most at risk of sinking deeper into poverty because of floods. For most of the vulnerable households, increased poverty is a gradual process, to which floods contribute but are not the only factor. Insufficient paddy fields, poor health, frequent crop losses, and animal husbandry losses make the situation in rural areas very difficult even without disasters. The lack of resources that has led to their poverty before a disaster continues to be a constraint to their recovery from disaster losses. SOCIAL IMPACTS Natural disasters have negative effects not only for individual households but also for the community as a whole. Tran et al. (2008) found that community cohesion was stronger and people tended to help each other more after the severe 1999 flood. The study also observed that community cohesion was stronger at first, but then weakened due to the stress of the flooding and the recovery process. During the flood season, the laborers in the affected coastal area of Thua Thien Hue migrated to cities to find jobs (IMOLA 2006). This had the effect of increasing the risk for the people left behind, especially the infirm and elderly, because communities were left without adequate human resources for flood response and recovery. Further, the study observed that a large number of children could not go to school during the flood season, and a large proportion of these children may permanently drop

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out of school (IMOLA 2006). Similar problems were also reported by Ninh, Trung, and Niem (2007). Elderly and disabled people may face serious health problems during flood periods; school time can be disrupted for long periods, especially when buildings require repairs. Malin (2005) observed that the communities in Central Vietnam had great capacity to respond to the 1999 flood and that a large proportion of the population received support from the government, civil societies, and NGOs. This enabled them to gradually recover. Local organizations with the authority and credibility to organize collective action, an active local government with strong linkages to the villages, and a relatively equitable distribution of resources are important factors helping communities and households cope with and recover from this sort of exogenous shock. The homogeneity of the community is also an important factor for resilience. In line with Adger and Kelly (1999), Malin argues that vulnerability to shocks is not just related to individually controlled resources but also to the overall resilience of the community. Social networks are very relevant for access to resources, when disaster relief supplies are provided. People without a family network in the area face many difficulties. State authorities, the cooperatives, community organizations (Women’s Union, Youth Union, veterans’ organizations, farmers’ associations, etc.), professional organizations, and religious bodies have played important roles in helping communities to cope with and recover from floods. For example, cooperatives in affected communities in Central Vietnam are key institutions for giving the poor access to resources. Access to irrigation and drainage via the cooperatives is institutionalized and collectively organized for all members of the community. After the 1999 flood, there were shortages of piglets and seedlings. Households had to wait until the local authorities and community organizations provided seedlings before they could reinvest in agricultural production. The Buddhist societies played a major role in mobilizing and distributing relief supplies to meet basic needs. In some communities there are Christian groups, which were also active in the relief work (Malin 2005). Ninh, Trung, and Niem (2007) showed that, after disasters, community organizations, cooperatives, the Red Cross, and other local organizations in the Mekong River Delta take part in organizing the repair of houses and infrastructure, and clean up the environment. People organize labor teams to help each other to restore agricultural fields that were filled with sand and wastes. The study concludes that when there is a major impact from a disaster, local government, community organizations, and community groups take action together to handle the immediate aftermath. Suu and My (2008) found that community organizations helped households obtain loans, buy health insurance, and access agricultural extension services. When a disaster occurs, local people help each other to rebuild destroyed houses. Huy (2007) found that people in coastal communities at his study site have strong family and kinship relationships that help them cope with disasters. The study also revealed that in the area examined, however, disaster response and mitigation were compromised by weak leadership, weak community organizations, weak organizational structures, and weak collaboration with government and administrative structures. Decision-making processes were sometimes ineffective because poor

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groups in the community could be excluded; participation in community affairs and disaster mitigation plans may be unequal. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS Rapid population growth and overuse of natural resources have led to environmental destruction. Human activities such as the conversion of wetlands and agricultural lands to shrimp ponds, and the construction of roads and infrastructure without taking into account their environmental impacts have adverse effects on the environment (Tuan et al. 2009). These practices, combined with inappropriate management of natural resources, lead to the deterioration and degradation of the environment, and make some areas more vulnerable to the effects of disasters. Natural disasters also contribute to environmental degradation. The 1999 floods in Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue provinces, for example, uprooted many hectares of trees and caused many landslides despite extended forest cover (Malin 2005). HEALTH IMPACTS An indirect impact of disasters is the generation and spreading of enormous quantities of waste including hazardous waste, vegetation, soil, sediment, waste from dumpsites and septic tanks, healthcare waste, demolition debris from destroyed buildings, and waste generated by relief operations. This waste poses risks to human health. Sanitation facilities are often destroyed. The displacement of families from severely affected places to safer locations puts a further strain on local sanitation systems. Sanitation facilities at relief camps are difficult to manage adequately, causing additional wastewater. Disasters reduce already limited access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in communities at risk. Floodwater increases the risk of water-borne diseases (Tran et al. 2008). The study found that 55 percent of respondents claimed that annual floods caused serious damage to sanitation systems. There are only a few studies focusing on the health risk associated with climate hazards in Vietnam. The incidence of diarrhea is known to increase after typhoons and floods; skin disease and conjunctivitis increase because of water contamination. Respiratory diseases and dengue also are associated with floods (see, e.g., Few, Tran, and Hong 2004; Few and Tran 2007; Few, Ha, and Chinh 2007). It should be noted that these studies did not include any quantitative measurements of the health effects. Long-lasting inundation caused serious problems to individuals’ health in the Mekong River Delta, particularly to elderly and disabled persons living in poor conditions with limited food stocks, unclean water sources, and poor sanitation. Epidemic diseases such as marsh fever, dengue fever, and diarrhea, among many others, also spread after flooding (Ninh, Trung, and Niem 2007; Few and Tran 2007). Kien, Shaw, and Ninh (2008) review the current and potential impacts of climate change and disasters on human health, vulnerability, and adaptation capacity in Vietnam. Their study reveals that people living in coastal communities are extremely

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vulnerable to health impacts caused by floods and storms. The study addresses a number of challenges and shortcomings of the public health system in Vietnam. For example, the impact of socioeconomic reforms on the health system have not been considered properly; health-related policies are made in a conventional top-down and centralized manner; and the risks of dengue, malaria, pneumonia, and waterrelated diseases remain high due to poor public health environment and sanitation. The study also suggests that it is necessary to include explicitly health-related issues in an integrated assessment of disaster impacts and vulnerability. Such an initiative would assist key institutions and personnel in building the capacity needed for handling the integration of disasters into the health sector. A review of the existing literature shows that the economic, social, environmental, and health impact of natural disasters in Vietnam is documented by a limited number of studies. The data are incomplete, however, and few reliable quantitative estimates exist of the effects of natural disasters on the country. Most evidence for the impact of disasters on economic sectors is available for agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, infrastructure, and livestock. However, the impact on other sectors such as tourism and recreation, forestry, and biodiversity are little touched upon. Those studies and papers that do report the economic costs of disasters provide, however, only tentative numbers. Furthermore, no attempt has been made to distinguish between the shortand long-term effects, or the direct and indirect effects of disasters.

Disaster Prevention, Response, and Mitigation in Vietnam To effectively prevent and mitigate natural disasters, especially floods and storms, agencies have been established at different administrative levels, and in different sectors and localities. The responsibilities of the agencies at each level are briefly discussed below. At the national level, the Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control (CCFSC) is responsible for assisting the government in observing and investigating the establishment and implementation of the annual flood and storm preparedness solutions and plans. The CCFSC also issues mandates mobilizing labor forces and equipment, so that pressing situations can be responded to. The CCFSC has authority over local administrations and can instruct them to act in the face of the consequences of floods and storms. In addition, the CCFSC organizes workshops on disaster preparedness and mitigation as a way of sharing experience, lessons, and technologies for disaster preparedness and mitigation. In the provinces, districts, and communes, People’s Committees establish local Committees for Flood and Storm Control (CFSC). These are responsible for helping the respective People’s Committee to build and implement flood and storm protection measures in the relevant area, by, for example, organizing dyke protection, encouraging flood and storm preparedness and mitigation, and dealing with the flood aftermath. Line ministries and central authorities also establish Sector Committees for Flood and Storm Control. The main responsibilities of these committees include

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implementing flood and storm preparedness and mitigation measures; protecting people, physical, and technical materials under the Sector Committee’s management; managing materials and equipment to be used in contingencies; timely supply of materials and equipment to affected areas in emergency situations and providing support in the aftermath of a flood or storm. NATIONAL STRATEGIES Flood and storm prevention, response, and mitigation have been considered important measures for socioeconomic development in Vietnam, especially since 1986. The Vietnamese state has put forward a strategy to deal with natural disasters through the Ordinance on Dykes (1989), the Ordinance on Flood and Storm Control (1993), the Strategy for Water Disaster (1994), the Law on Dykes (2006), and multiple decrees guiding the implementation of these laws and ordinances. In 2007, the National Strategy for Natural Disaster Prevention, Response and Mitigation to 2020 was approved by the prime minister (SRV 2007). This National Strategy addresses both general and region-specific measures for disaster preparedness, response, and mitigation. General measures include: • consolidation of the system of law, policy making, and organizational structures; • development of human resources and social mobilization; • increasing financial resources; • raising community awareness; • research related to disaster prevention, response, and mitigation; • ensuring the effectiveness of dyke, reservoir, and dam systems; • enhancing search and rescue capacities; and • promoting international cooperation and integration. Specific measures are proposed for different regions (see table 8.2). In recent years, the government has made considerable efforts to prevent and mitigate disasters. Physical and technical infrastructures for disaster preparedness have been improved, and substantial progress has been made in coordinating disaster response, central to local levels. Important policies and decisions have been put in place, for example, policies for the “living with floods” areas (Mekong River Delta), flood diversion and retarding areas (Northern region) and “avoidance and adaptation” areas (Central region). Much structural work has been done such as reservoir building, dyke upgrading, boat and ship shelter building, and so on. Nonstructural solutions have also been put in place including forest rehabilitation, renovation of communication systems, improvement of forecasting, international cooperation, community awareness raising, and consolidation of organizational mechanisms for flood and storm control and for search and rescue (SRV 2007). There have been some recent achievements in disaster prevention, response, and mitigation in Vietnam. For example, a particular success was recorded in response to the Damrey Storm in 2005. To cope with the storm, authorities at all levels, armed forces, and community associations were involved in the mobilization of substantial

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192 { Case Studies of Natural Disasters TABLE 8.2 } Region-Specific Measures for Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Mitigation


Main approach

Specific measures

The Red River Delta and the North Central

Prevent floods, take initiatives to respond to droughts and storms

– Enhance the flood-prevention capacity of river dyke systems; – build new reservoirs, regulate water levels for downstream areas; – improve the flood discharge capacity of river channels; – implement programmes to restore sea dykes, build embankments in coastal provinces.

The Central Coast, the Eastern South and Islands

Pro-activeness in disaster – Prepare residential, industrial, and tourism areas prevention and adaptafor possible disasters; tion for development – modify crops and animal husbandry infrastructure to suit regional disaster characteristics; – strengthen dykes, build reservoirs, dredge river channels; – build storm shelters for boats and ships; establish coastal typhoon and tsunami warning stations; – promote research into solutions to prevent river mouth deposition.

The Mekong River Delta

Living with floods

Mountainous areas and Central Highlands

Proactively prevent natu- – Map areas that are highly prone to flash floods, ral disasters landslides; – establish local warning and communication systems; – build structures to prevent landslides and flash floods; – expand flood discharge systems; – build reservoirs for both flood and drought control; – strengthen cooperation with bordering countries on disaster forecasting, warning, search, and rescue.

Sea areas

Proactive prevention and – Establish a management system for vehicles and response boats operating at sea; – establish communication systems, deliver disaster forecasts and warnings to sea-going vessels; – establish professional search and rescue forces; – strengthen cooperation with other countries in disaster forecasting, warning, communication, search, and rescue.

– Establish flood control plans, be proactive in flood prevention; – build residential clusters above flood levels, improve flood discharge, construct sea dykes and other structures for salinity prevention and fresh water preservation; – enhance cooperation with countries in the Mekong river basin to reasonably use and protect water resources.

Source: SRV 2007.

state and private resources in order to evacuate residents and boats fishing at sea to safe places (Phuong 2007). The above review suggests that the government has paid much attention to prevention, response, and mitigation of disasters. However, there are a number

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of constraints and challenges in disaster mitigation and management in Vietnam. Constraints and limitations include forecasting and warning systems that are insufficient to meet requirements, especially in the case of flash floods, landslides, and whirlwinds. Prevention activities in local areas have been insufficient. Communities in mountainous areas have not received timely warnings about disasters, especially for flash floods and landslides. The infrastructure for disaster preparedness and mitigation remains poor, and investment in disaster prevention and response infrastructure remains limited. Emergency relief, damage recovery, and rehabilitation are limited and sometimes affected by poor coordination and lack of cooperation. Search and rescue activities are limited due to lack of equipment and facilities. The awareness of the relationship between disasters and environmental protection remains low (CCFSC 2005; Phuong 2007; SRV 2007). Particular challenges for disaster prevention, response, and mitigation in Vietnam are the increasing frequency and severity of disasters; the high speed of socioeconomic development and population growth, and the high rate of urbanization and industrialization, which have contributed to the increase in the frequency of disasters. This has included construction work related to tourism, as well as building of industrial and residential areas without considering the impact of possible disasters. The combination of different types of disasters in particular localities hinders the setting up of disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies and action plans for that locality (CCFSC 2005; Phuong 2007). PROVINCIAL, DISTRICT, AND COMMUNAL LEVEL STRATEGIES As discussed earlier in provinces, districts, and communes, local CFSCs are responsible for helping the equivalent People’s Committee in planning, monitoring, coordinating, and implementing the disaster prevention, response, and mitigation efforts. Each province and district is responsible for implementation of national disaster prevention and mitigation policies. Local authorities at provincial, district, and communal levels participate to different extents in formulating legal documents, and in planning, managing, and monitoring the implementation of programs and projects related to disaster prevention, response, and mitigation. For example, local authorities in Nam Dinh province have identified and implemented structural measures (e.g., build reservoirs, clear floodways, strengthen dyke management and protection works, etc.) and nonstructural measures (forecasting, awareness, education) that will contribute to disaster prevention, response, and mitigation (Viner et al. 2006). Communes and districts in the Red River Delta have been responsible for the construction of sea dykes. Communes officially employ a variety of strategies for use of the revenue they raise for storm protection (Adger 1998). Nam (2008) reveals that, in preparing for and mitigating disaster impacts, the province of Thua Thien Hue has implemented a range of actions including: • rearrangement of aquaculture farms and lagoons used for fish-breeding; • building of dams for preventing saltwater intrusion upstream;

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• preventing coastal erosion by closing off a channel to the sea that was opened by the 1999 flood; • construction of upstream reservoirs for reducing flood peaks; and • setting up resettlement programs for sampan people (who live on boats on lagoons). In addition, the local authorities have organized resettlement projects to protect the lives of people from vulnerable areas by moving them to safer locations in order to mitigate disasters risks. Local governments have worked with farmers in the Mekong River Delta to construct and maintain dyke systems around rice fields in an attempt to control flooding and protect crops. Local authorities and local organizations play a key role in encouraging households to actively engage in many activities (e.g., repairing homes, reinforcing infrastructure, etc.) at least a month before the storm and flood season (Ninh, Trung, and Niem 2007). Communal authorities organize annual disaster impact reduction training sessions (e.g., on emergency rescue) before the flood and storm season. Through the mass media, warnings, guidance, and advice are broadcast to people and communities at risk. HOUSEHOLD LEVEL Various measures related to natural disaster prevention, response, and mitigation have been adopted by households in different regions in Vietnam. These measures are often based on local experiences, perceptions, and economic capacity. People in the Red River Delta respond to flood and storm impacts in various ways including changing their economic structure by reducing their investments in agriculture and investing more in aquaculture and fisheries. Other measures include establishing irrigation systems to reduce saltwater intrusion and building better, more solid infrastructure (Chinh 2008). Farmers in Central Vietnam stabilize agricultural production by adjusting their farming practices, changing their crop calendars, the type of seeds used, the crops planted, rotating crops, employing early harvests, and moving crops to higher ground (Malin 2005; Huy 2007; Suu and My 2008). Hill farmers diversify agricultural production (e.g., groundnuts, cassava, forest plantation, and animal husbandry) to minimize vulnerability, because this reduces dependence on paddy rice as the main source of income and food security (Malin 2005). Households sustain their income levels by diversifying supplementary nonfarm income sources through migration (IMOLA 2006). People in coastal communities use various ways to cope with disasters, for example, building houses on higher ground or with high foundations to avoid floods, protecting houses with sandbags, reinforcing pillars and roofs before a storm, and so on (Huy 2007; Tran et al. 2008). Some households use steel wire to tie thatched roofs to the frame. Some protect their corrugated iron roofs with sand bags. Some fetch bamboo to make rafts; sometimes banana trunks are put aside for the same purpose. Others build small huts to protect their livestock. Households that own small boats keep them ready for use when there is a flood (Huy 2007). People

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store necessities for emergencies and are involved in flood mapping and evacuation routing for their areas (Phuong 2007). People take steps to try to avoid disease risk in the aftermath of a storm and flood, and during long-term inundations by participating in cleanups of the environment (removing solid waste, dead animals, etc.), by trying to ensure that water and food is safe, and by using bed nets against mosquitoes (Few, Ha, and Chinh 2007). Farmers in the Mekong River Delta construct and maintain dyke system around their agricultural fields in an attempt to control floods and protect crops. Farmers adopt adaptive measures against floods such as consolidation of rice field embankments, elevated storage for harvested paddy, moving animals to safer ground, and stocking emergency food, firewood and medicine. People accommodate flooding via flood-based livelihoods; diversify plantations by cultivating additional vegetable crops; diversify livelihoods by growing mushrooms, expanding fish ponds, increasing the area of fruit tree plantations, and so on. Some farmers seasonally migrate to work in cities or farms as physical laborers, or work locally as day laborers (Few, Tran, and Hong 2004; Ninh, Trung, and Niem 2007; Few and Tran 2007).

Conclusions and the Way Forward A number of studies have been carried out in Vietnam dealing with the different impacts of disasters. While data about these impacts are incomplete, the existing evidence indicates that disasters in Vietnam cause grave impacts to economic sectors, increase poverty, adversely impact individual households and the community as large, cause environmental degradation, and induce serious health problems. There is a need for more accurate, comprehensive, and systematic information on disaster impacts, in order to increase support for disaster management among policy makers, government officials, and international donors. Such data would illustrate the vulnerability of sectors and localities. This can be useful for policy makers and donors by helping them better target financial resources for enhanced adaptation to climate disasters in Vietnam. This would also help governments to develop appropriate national and sectoral policies, particularly for reconstruction, preparedness, and mitigation. However, most of the existing studies are descriptive in nature. This may be due, among other things, to the lack of expertise, data, facilities, and tools needed for rigorous studies. Moreover, the existing studies rarely touch upon impacts on other economic sectors such as tourism, recreation, forestry; long-term impacts on the flows of goods and services; macroeconomic impacts; and nonmarket impacts such as biodiversity damage. The ability to understand systematically and comprehensively the socioeconomic impacts of disasters in Vietnam is, therefore, limited. This opens up space for future economic research. For example, tourism is an important economic activity in many coastal provinces such as Quang Ninh, Thua Thien Hue, and Quang Nam, where disasters are frequent. The possible impacts of disasters on tourism could be an important area for research. The potential loss of biodiversity,

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in terms of its economic value, caused by disasters is another research area where economic tools can be applied. The review of disaster prevention, response, and mitigation measures in Vietnam points to the importance of public education and community awareness about disasters and of enforcement of legislation and policies on disasters. This chapter also suggests that in designing programs and policies on disaster prevention, response, and mitigation, there is a need to mainstream them into socioeconomic development strategy for every region, sector, and for the country as a whole.

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